By Nick Cato, Shahid Mahmud
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Extra resources for Abandoned Mine Site Characterization and Cleanup Handbook
Structural problems with the waste units and the mines must be considered from a perspective of both ensuring the safety of remediation workers and alleviating environmental impacts that would result from structural failure and a subsequent release of contaminants. Slope Failure. Slopes at mine sites fall into two categories: cut slopes and manufactured or filled slopes. The methods of slope formation reflect the hazards associated with each. Cut slopes are created by the removal of overburden and/or ore which results in the creation of or alteration to the surface slope of undisturbed native materials.
Many of these sites were slated for cleanup because the presence of toxic levels of heavy-metal residues generated by mining and industrial operations were a health threat, not only to significant population centers, but were also severely impacting the surrounding watersheds and drainages where cold-water fishery resources are highly valued aspects of recreation and tourism. In addition to the NPL-site activities over the past one and a half decades, site assessment and inventorying efforts by states, federal land managing agencies and the EPA continue to identify abandoned mine sites and features consisting of smaller smelter and milling operations, draining mine adits, impounded and alluvial tailings, waste rock piles, and related contaminated stream reaches.
The acute toxicity of cyanide (inhalation or ingestion of cyanide interferes with an organism's oxygen metabolism and is lethal) coupled with impacts from a number of major incidents have focused attention on the use of cyanide in the mining industry. Through the 1980's, as cyanidation operations and cyanide usage proliferated, incidents were reported in which waterfowl died when using tailings ponds or other cyanide-containing solution ponds. In addition, a number of major spills occurred, including one in South Highlight 3-6 Romanian Cyanide Spill On January 31, 2000, a tailings dam failed at the Aurul gold mine near the town of Bai Mare in Romania.